Communication

Brussels' political structures boost exclusion by Kwinten Lambrecht

Brussels

You probably know the feeling: friends from abroad ask you to explain how the political system of Belgium and Brussels in particular work. "Well, in Brussels you have 19 different municipalities that own certain competences or share them with the 'central' Brussels regional government." Your friends look at you with raised eyebrows and then either start laughing or ask you how things can actually move forward here. And it's true; cities like Paris, London and even New York have one single Mayor, and a holistic approach to the way the city is planned and governed.

Brussels is different, it's a bureaucratic monster, things get done here but it takes an awful lot of time, 'thanks' to our political structure. Nowadays, the critical mass against these 19 municipalities 'fighting' with the central Brussels government is growing and there's a simple reason for that: citizens want to move forward. Citizens feel the potential of this great place, some politicians prefer status quo to protect themselves, and not their citizens.

After this long introduction I would like to come to the point: the political structures of Brussels pave the way for exclusion. Even better: participation encourages exclusion. The following example below illustrates why.

The alderwoman of cleanliness (or garbage?) of the municipality that I am living in, Ms. Karine Lalieux, organises every 3 months a 'rendez-vous' with people that are living in my neighbourhood to talk about cleanliness. Great initiative! But... as I am living on a regional street, the Alderwoman could not care less about my opinion. I am receiving this letter 'just for my information', since my street is not part of Madame Lalieux' action domain. How schizophrenic can your politicians be? In the heads of politicians these boundaries may be clear (because they want to stay in their luxury position), but citizens don't care whether a massive pile of garbage is being dumped on the corner of a regional or municipal street. Below you can find a Twitter conversation that happened last year, read and feel the kafka!

Karine Lalieux
Kwinten Lambrecht Twitter

Another striking example, without getting too 'dividing', but I want you to reflect on it: in Brussels we usually vote for politicians from our own language 'community'. This means that Dutch-speaking citizens vote for Dutch-speaking politicians and vice versa. In the end, this drives exclusion as well. Why? Because a politician like Fadila Laanan, who is the Regional Secretary of State for cleanliness, couldn't care less about my opinion because the chance that I will vote for her in the future, because I am Dutch-speaking, is nearly 0%. In reality I could of course vote for her, but that's the way Brussels' politicians reason nowadays. Just reflect on it: you are always in one or another way excluded.

We want our politicians to work at the service of the city, in the interest of the city and its citizens. So, let's stop accepting this madness. It will be more efficient, holistic, clearer and way cheaper!

Are our neighbours polluters? by Kwinten Lambrecht

I live in the centre of Brussels, the centre of Europe, Belgium's capital. My area is 'developing'; the Region is soon building separate cycle lanes and a huge park at Porte de Ninove. At this stage we can only 'hope' that these infrastructure interventions will make this a better place. Because today my area is dirty: our garden is basically a dump, the 'petite ceinture' is a highway without speed limits (and not one single politician cares about that) and our street consists of so-called garbage hotspots.

Basically, for two years now most of the corners of my street, the Boulevard de l'Abattoir, are polluted with anything you can imagine; from toilets, to rotten food, dismantled furniture, carpets, etc.

I have tried to reach out via Twitter multiple times to non-visionary politicians like Fadila Laanan and Karine Lalieux but without real success I mean, if you are serious about using social media in political communication then stop the self-promotion of the great things you are doing in life. No, be accountable, provide 'your' citizens with answers, with solutions. Only Alderwomen Els Ampe and Ans Persoons are taking social media seriously to communicate with citizens here in Brussels.

Lalieux (Alderwoman for cleanliness since 2006!) once replied to me by applauding her own initiatives, without focusing on the real issue; the same places are used to dump trash each and every day. During a 'district meeting' she also ignored the question, so I decided not to go anymore. She may be too busy with her second job as MP in the Federal Parliament. Can you imagine being a full time MP and having to take care of the cleanliness of a city with +100k inhabitants? That's bonkers!

The question remains; where does all the trash come from? My street should be mentioned somewhere in the dark circuits as 'the place to be' to get rid of your trash because one, or even five families together, cannot produce the trash that we find in our street. The point is: if you know that these places are known to be hotspots, then why is no one acting? It makes it even more difficult to respect the area you live in when you see all the garbage around you. We are literally wasting the future of kids who, until now, only grew up with the idea of trashy streets and could never play in a park on the other side of the street because it's reserved for the nasty habits of some Bruxellois and, who knows, people from far outside!

This situation sketched above probably rings a bell to many Brusselers so let's try to be constructive. Below you will find 8 suggestions to overcome the trash troubles that Brussels is facing today. Please provide more ideas in the comments section!

  1. Repression: use cameras, just like in Molenbeek, to observe these places for a couple of days and fine the criminals.
  2. Use underground waste containers and let people use it for free all the time.
  3. Organise 'exchange markets' for inhabitants where the things you don't need are exchanged for things that your neighbours offer.
  4. Organise more than two 'big waste' free collection rounds per year. Do it every month and communicate about is wisely.
  5. People don't know when it's time to put the blue, white or yellow bags outside: inform people with dedicated calendars.
  6. Provide incentives for citizens: make them bring green waste from fruits and veggies to so-called district compost centres; once they have composted 20 kilos of waste they will receive a free bag of potting soil to cultivate plants and flowers on their terrace or garden.
  7. Organise guerilla actions to show that polluting your neighbourhood is a no-go, just like here in Portugal or in London .
  8. Provide more public space; the parking dump on Boulevard Poincarré/Abattoir needs to be transformed into a green haven, as soon as possible.
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I was Europe for one week by Kwinten Lambrecht

Last week I was curator number 13 of the I am Europe Twitter account. It's a project that was started by an Italian student (@arajacorp) and is similar to 'national' accounts such as @sweden for example. Through the account may nationalities can talk and engage beyond the so-called Brussels Bubble. Not only about European politics or the institutions, but mainly about life in general and the specificities of every country in Europe. 

Here are some of my highlights:

  • Crowd sourcing artists from my followers, resulting in new pins on my Art and Visuals Pinterest board
  • The #AskaBelgian questions that I was able to respond to, from my favorite dish to Belgian politics
  • Conversations about the next EU Commission President
  • The various exchanges with loyal followers about the birds and the bees

It was a fantastic week and I will miss it, I truly believe that initiatives like these can bring people together and can shine a different light on one's perception of the world. 

Below you can find all the tweets that I've sent during my week (6-13 April 2014).